The war on drugs initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte on July 1, 2016, has made headlines around the world. The 5th commandment, “Thou shall not kill” while widely promoted, is ignored. Most of the extra judicial killings take place among the poor. Even women are killed. Children also caught in cross-fire.
I celebrate Mass in a shanty-town each Sunday morning. After our Mass a few weeks ago, I was invited to bless a house. Filipinos will not sleep in a house where a murder is committed until it is blessed. We proceeded along the narrow pathways in the shanty town. Towards the end I was led through a narrow passage way leading to very narrow stairs which made it difficult for me to climb up to the small room. The couple living there told me that their brother had been shot dead. He slept on plywood in a corner of the shack. A policeman had made his way with the narrow stairs and shot him at close range. Such incidents are all too common in the poor areas in the on-going war against drugs.
Since the new government took over on July some 3,750 have been summarily executed. They are suspected drug addicts and denied due process is in their right. I was asked to bless another home where the man of the house was similarly shot dead as he rested. It was a two-story rickety shack. Afterwards the woman living downstairs asked me to bless her room. The wake was held on the street, since the shack was too small for the coffin.
Another woman talked about how her husband was shot in front of the children. He pleaded to be allowed to kiss his children goodbye. It was denied. He was taken outside and summarily executed.
Even when people surrender they are shot dead in the ongoing sustained war on drugs. To add insult to injury the poor people have to raise funds to bury their murdered loved ones. In the year of Mercy. the killing goes on without mercy.
The appeals of human rights groups, the U.S., the E.U., the International Criminal Court, to end the executions are ignored. The aim is to kill 3 million!
The root cause of drug addiction is poverty. Many children cannot go to school so they are illiterate and can find no employment. They become involved in the drug trade in order to survive.
Some live on the streets, other in one shacks in inhumane conditions. They sniff glue and solvent, to assuage the pangs of hunger for there is no concrete program to address the problem of unemployment, inadequate housing, subsidised food and education for the poor.
The human cost of the war on drugs is enormous. Families are devastated. Communities are infiltrated by spies and informers. Many become widows and orphans. Even women are killed either by police or vigilant groups. In theory suspected drug users are given the choice of surrendering or being shot. Often those who surrender are shot dead. If not, they are imprisoned in inhumane, over-crowded jails in terrible conditions. They are supposed to go to rehabilitation centers which are few and far between. There is a serious shortage of doctors, nurses and trained counsellors to help addicts to recover. They are sick people in needs of healing from their addictions, not criminals to be shot at sight.
The killing must stop, and the victims of drug addiction must be given a chance to recover and rebuild their lives. That is their basic human right. Already since July 1, some 3,400 suspected drug addicts has been murdered. Unless the government changes its policy, the killing will continue and we’ll have many more destitute widows and orphans. There must be another way to deal with the drug menace. Hope spring eternal. The people deserve better.
Columban Fr. John Keenan lives and works in the Philippines.